Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government “failed to consider environmental, agricultural and financial risks and impacts, proceeded with little input from experts or affected parties, and favoured certain developers/landowners” when it removed 7,400 acres of protected land from the Greenbelt in Fall 2022.”
Developers gained over $8.3-billion in land value from the changes, which were planned with “preferential treatment to certain developers with direct access to the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing” Ryan Amato.
The findings are detailed in a Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt.
The owners of the Book Road lands in Ancaster received preferential access to Amato, and were able to get their 1,809.37 acres moved over of the Greenbelt despite the 17.51 percent of the lands being a Natural Heritage System and restrictions on housing development in proximity to the airport.
[The AG notes that a Ministerial Zoning Order can remove those restrictions.]
The AG writes that removing the Book Road lands is “assessed as likely to have significant adverse impacts on the agricultural system.”
67 percent of the Book Road lands are Prime Agricultural Land Class 1-3. Nearly all of this prime land is actively used for agriculture, including fruit and vegetable production and two livestock operations.
The 9.82 acres removed from the Greenbelt on Barton Street in Stoney Creek is entirely a Speciality Crop area. Provincial policies state that these types of agricultural lands are to be protected from development.
Amato attended the Building Industry and Land Development Association’s (BILD) Chair’s Dinner on September 14, 2022.
At this dinner, Amato said a developer “provided him with information and requests to also remove the Book Road site in the City of Hamilton.”
Amato gave the information to staff, and the lands were removed from the Greenbelt.
“Altogether, those who had access to the Chief of Staff at the September BILD event ended up with land removals that accounted for 6,784 acres, or 92% (see Figure 7) of the 7,412.64 acres ultimately,” writes AG Lysyk.
Amato’s influence was not limited to these properties or a single event. The AG finds he heavily involved himself in and influenced the process.
“Almost all of the properties removed from the Greenbelt were identified and were provided to the Greenbelt Project Team directly by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff after he received material from or on behalf of certain developers,” writes Lysyk.
The City of Hamilton was kept in the dark during the process.
The Auditor General says the secrecy of planning surrounding the Greenbelt removals caused the Province to remove lands that cannot be readily developed for housing soon.
“Contrary to public communication, we found that the Housing Ministry’s Greenbelt Project Team did not analyze whether the sites proposed for removal from the Greenbelt could support housing development in the near future. Operating under a confidentiality agreement, the Greenbelt Project Team was prevented from contacting partner ministries and external parties such as municipalities, conservation authorities and developers, and could not assess the existing or planned infrastructure availability and ser¬vicing capacity for the sites.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark told the AG they were “unaware” of what Chief of Staff Amato was working on.
Amato stated he did not inform the Premier nor the Minister of what he was working on.
The AG’s report notes that email record retention was not followed, and personal emails were used to conduct government business.
The AG writes that Minister Clark “ought to have known that the Chief of Staff was the primary recipient and provider of lands to the Greenbelt Project Team, especially given the high-profile, politically sensitive and controversial nature of the Greenbelt Project.”
Lysyk recommends that “Given that the Premier and the Minister of Housing have communicated to us that they were unaware that the pre-selection of lands for removal from the Greenbelt was biased,” the government should “re-evaluate the 2022 decision to change the Greenbelt boundaries.”
Flamborough-Glanbrook Member of Provincial Parliament Donna Skelly supported the Book Road Greenbelt removal. Skelly has consistently favoured sprawl developments in her riding.
Premier Ford and Minister Clark are scheduled to speak at 1 p.m.
Production Details v. 1.0.0 Published: August 9, 2023 Last edited: August 9, 2023 Author: Joey Coleman Edit Record v. 1.0.0 original version